Occupational Therapy Helps Patients Become Self-Sufficient, Restore Lost Function
While many of us take everyday activities such as cooking a meal or buttoning a shirt for granted, they can be very difficult for someone who has suffered loss of function due to a serious injury, neurological disorder, disease, or other medical problem.
Milford resident Mary Derflinger can attest to the limitations many people experience after an injury or illness. In December, Derflinger accidentally cut through a tendon in her hand as she was trimming a ham. She said, “It was a completely freak accident, something I never thought I’d do since I’ve worked in the food industry for 30 years!”
The injury required her to have surgery to reconnect the torn tendon. After surgery, her hand was stiff, sore, and weakened. Derflinger said, “My fingers, especially the finger I cut, wanted to just stay curled in toward the palm of my hand. It hurt to straighten it, and I lost practically all strength in my hand. It was hard to pick up or grip nearly anything.” To regain function and strength in her hand, Occupational Therapy at Lakes Regional Healthcare was the next step in her rehabilitation process.
Occupational Therapy services typically include customized treatment programs, comprehensive home and job site evaluations with adaptation recommendations, performance skills assessments and treatment, adaptive equipment recommendations and training, and guidance to family members and caregivers. Lakes Regional Healthcare Occupational Therapist, Kathy Campbell, worked with Derflinger, her family physician and orthopedic surgeon to develop an individualized treatment plan designed to help her recover and resume everyday activities. Campbell said, “We worked together to establish realistic goals that helped Mary regain strength, function, independence, and get her back to the productive person she is.”
Derflinger was surprised at how much therapy helped her. She said, “I really thought when I walked in the door - what can they teach me to heal my fingers that I can’t learn myself? I quickly learned that if you want to recover 100 percent, therapy is necessary.” Campbell gave Derflinger several exercises to improve her strength, coordination, and dexterity, such as strict hand and finger exercises, picking up small objects, manipulating nuts and bolts, and working with exercise putty and resistive balls.
As in Derflinger’s case, Occupational Therapists utilize a variety of treatment methods to achieve the following objectives:
• Improve activities of daily living (feeding, dressing, grooming, homemaking, work, child care, etc.).
• Increase upper body functioning.
• Prevent contractures.
• Educate patients in proper body mechanics and energy conservation.
• Teach alternate ways of performing activities.
• Enhance coping and stress management skills.
• Improve quality of life through involvement in leisure activities and utilization of community resources.
Derflinger has been happy with her outcome. “I feel fantastic. But it wasn’t always that way. I wore a splint at first to prevent my fingers from curling in. Once I stopped wearing that, for some time, when I woke up each morning, my hand was clamped tight in a fist and it wasn’t fun to stretch out my fingers. But I did, and I faithfully did the exercises Kathy gave me. Good thing, too, because now I have even more strength in my injured hand than I do in my other hand, plus I can move and use my fingers as if nothing even happened.”
Several people can benefit from Occupational Therapy services. Campbell said, “Occupational therapy is beneficial for those who have had a stroke, have had wrist fractures or repetitive injuries such as tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome, those who have rheumatoid arthritis, and people who have had a hip or knee surgery.”
According to Campbell, Derflinger is an example of how people who have suffered an injury or health condition can return to their normal, everyday activities through occupational therapy. She said, “Some limitations may remain, and acceptance of them is important. However, people don’t have to be limited by an injury.”
A physician’s referral is needed to receive Occupational Therapy services. Those with questions can contact their physician or Lakes Regional Healthcare’s Occupational Therapy department at 712-336-8651.